Bettin' on B-Ball
Best in the West

Dec 9, 2003 8:29 AM

We’re more than a month into the NBA regular season, there are several significant stories that continue to develop.

Of course, the balance of power remains in the west by a wide margin. Only two teams in the Western Conference have losing records.

The new-look Lakers are at the top of the heap, with the usual suspects nipping at their heels ”” San Antonio, Sacramento, Dallas, Phoenix and Minnesota.

It’s worth noting that Los Angeles has already swept the defending champion Spurs this season, after San Antonio did the same to them last year.

For bettors, most of the action on which team will win the NBA finals next spring has fall gone to Western teams.

The Lakers opened a 2-1 choice to win it all and have actually been bet down to a prohibitive even money to reign supreme.

Last year’s champs, San Antonio, are an inviting 7-1, while he Lakers long-time rival, the Sacramento Kings, are 9-2.

Rounding out the top five choices are Dallas (5-1) and New Jersey, which at 10-1, is the only non-Western Conference team in the top echelon.

San Antonio begins the week in last place of the conference despite an 11-10 record. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the young season, Denver, is tied with Dallas for the Division lead.

Houston and Memphis have also played exceptionally well in the season’s first five weeks. And Utah continues to play winning basketball despite the loss of Karl Malone and John Stockton, showing the great ability of coach Jerry Sloan to be a teacher, leader and rebuild.

In the East, the Atlantic Division finally has a team over .500 winning percentage with Philadelphia leading the Division at 11-10. The other six teams are all below .500 including last season’s conference champion New Jersey Nets.

Orlando continues to be the league’s biggest disappointment, having lost 19 straight games prior to hosting Phoenix Monday night. Obviously, superstar Tracy McGrady can’t do it alone.

Indiana continues to have the best record in the conference with Detroit and New Orleans keeping pace. Toronto is also playing winning ball. Following a slow start the Raptors have won six of seven and have adjusted well following their trade with Chicago that added much needed offense to the lineup.

Home teams continue to outperform road teams against the spread but only by a very slight margin, attesting to the fine job being done by the lines makers. There have also been just slightly more UNDERs than OVERs for the first few weeks of the season.

Beating the NBA continues to be heavily dependent on finding the right situation that applies to specific games. Scheduling and travel are much more important factors than in the other major sports, and having an idea of when teams are likely to perform to their potential is paramount to successful handicapping and wagering.

Here’s a look at three match-ups this weekend.

Toronto at Boston (Friday): Toronto has continued to be an early season surprise, even following the trade that brought Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall to the Raptors from Chicago. Although Toronto has put up some ugly numbers this season including five games in which they scored under 70 points, they have averaged over 100 points per game in December. Boston has played at an up-tempo pace all season and their scoring is also up appreciably over the past two weeks. OVER.

L.A. Lakers at Portland (Saturday): The Lakers have the NBA’s best record and have already opened up a six game lead over Portland in the Pacific Division. All three losses have come on the road, while Portland has won 10 of 12 at home. The home team won each of the four meetings last season and this is their first encounter of the new season. Portland is rested while the Lakers hosted Dallas in a national TV game Friday night. PORTLAND.

Phoenix at Sacramento (Sunday): Phoenix is off to a disappointing start while Sacramento is trying to keep within striking distance of the Lakers while they await the return to health of Chris Webber. This is their first meeting after splitting four games last season. Phoenix has plenty of offense with Shawn Marion, Stephon Marbury and Anfernee Hardaway, and can play at the fast pace preferred by Sacramento, which leads the league in scoring. OVER.